Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis in children under the age of 16.
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis can cause persistent joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Some children may experience symptoms for only a few months, while others have symptoms for the rest of their lives.
Some types of juvenile idiopathic arthritis can cause serious complications, such as growth problems, joint damage and eye inflammation. Treatment focuses on controlling pain and inflammation, improving function, and preventing joint damage.
The most common signs and symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are:
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis can affect one joint or many. There are several different subtypes of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, but the main ones are systemic, oligoarticular and polyarticular. Which type your child has depends on symptoms, the number of joints affected, and if a fever and rashes are prominent features.
Like other forms of arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis is characterized by times when symptoms flare up and times when symptoms disappear.
Take your child to the doctor if he or she has joint pain, swelling or stiffness for more than a week â especially if he or she also has a fever.
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. It's not known why this happens, but both heredity and environment seem to play a role. Certain gene mutations may make a person more susceptible to environmental factors â such as viruses â that may trigger the disease.
Diagnosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis can be difficult because joint pain can be caused by many different types of problems. No single test can confirm a diagnosis, but tests can help rule out some other conditions that produce similar signs and symptoms.
Some of the most common blood tests for suspected cases include:
In many children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, no significant abnormality will be found in these blood tests.
X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be taken to exclude other conditions, such as fractures, tumors, infection or congenital defects.
Imaging may also be used from time to time after the diagnosis to monitor bone development and to detect joint damage.
Several serious complications can result from juvenile idiopathic arthritis. But keeping a careful watch on your child's condition and seeking appropriate medical attention can greatly reduce the risk of these complications:
Eye problems. Some forms can cause eye inflammation (uveitis). If this condition is left untreated, it may result in cataracts, glaucoma and even blindness.
Eye inflammation frequently occurs without symptoms, so it's important for children with this condition to be examined regularly by an ophthalmologist.
Caregivers can help children learn self-care techniques that help limit the effects of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Techniques include:
Eating well. Some children with arthritis have poor appetites. Others may gain excess weight due to medications or physical inactivity. A healthy diet can help maintain an appropriate body weight.
Adequate calcium in the diet is important because children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis are at risk of developing weak bones (osteoporosis) due to the disease, the use of corticosteroids, and decreased physical activity and weight bearing.
Family members can play critical roles in helping children cope with their condition. As a parent, you may want to try the following:
Some forms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are more common in girls.